The guilt of pandemic parenting

The guilt of parenting during a pandemic is heavier than any weighted blanket available on Amazon, and unlike a weighted blanket which is designed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep, it ratchets it up, and gives your brain more to consider as you lay awake, completely aware of how badly you’re failing at just about everything you’re doing right now.

Where I live, we’re in Week 3 of pandemic parenting, meaning while mom and dad work full time from home, we’re also providing full-time care to our children, which includes some educational instruction.

(I’d like to pause here and acknowledge that our pandemic situation is privileged. Privilege, in this case, looks like general good health, two parents, two pay cheques (for now), food in the fridge, an ample (but not excessive) amount of toilet paper, a bit of a backyard, and more sunny days than rainy ones. There’s even an uncertified therapy dog who is happy to absorb all of the angst and fear that comes from being locked up with your loved ones for days on end.)

I always wanted children, but I also knew that stay-at-home parenting was not my jam. I love grown-ups, and swearing, and solving grown-up problems. I love leaving behind my dirty laundry and mismatched socks in favour of a quiet office that I share with a five-year old orchid that blooms semi-annually. I love the sound of the office HVAC system, and I love my other office mate, a tiny blue space heater that only sees use in summer because the HVAC system lives in Opposite Land. I love going to work, I love being at work, and I love coming home from work to see faces I would die for — faces that I’ve missed so much and thought about so many times during the day. I love the car ride home from daycare because I get to hear all of their ridiculous stories. I love sharing adventures and kid gossip at the dinner table. I love weekends because it means I can stay home with my people because I miss them so much.

I always wanted children, but I also knew that teaching was not my jam. My mother is a teacher, my sister, too. I watch both and shake my head. Where they excel, I would flounder. Judging by my parenting style, if you put me in charge of a class full of 7-year-olds I would take turns bribing them with Dino-Sours and threatening to cancel Christmas. Adults, with their manners and passive-aggressive side-eyes, don’t scare me, but children are wise and cunning. Eventually they’d figure out that my threats are as empty as the bag of Dino-Sours that I inhaled in the cloak room. At which point I’d probably just run behind a plant and hide because 1. children are terrifying, 2. I have zero teaching tools and no desire to acquire them, and 3. unlike my sister and my mother, I lack the ultimate secret weapon: A teacher voice.

I always loved the routine provided by school, daycare and work, and the thrill I got from stacking all those perfect little glass jars so they balanced so perfectly and shone so beautifully that even the stiffest wind couldn’t knock them over. And yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, my glass jars of routine and sanity shattered on the driveway, and I am stuck in my house, working full time, parenting full time, and teaching, too.

I’ve got to say, I’m not a huge fan.

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 7.39.19 AMPandemic parenting means that I never get to miss my children, and they never get to miss each other. They are always here, always in my business and in each other’s. They wrestle constantly, stopping only when someone gets a bloody nose or a knee to the nuts, and when I suggest a directed drawing, some Reflex Math, or a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (online, obviously), I’m met with a deep sigh and a “no thanks, I already know about hippos.”

Knees to the nuts it is, then.

And despite how much I joke about my lack of parenting skills, I always secretly thought I was pretty good at it. Until yesterday.

During my oldest child’s first Zoom videoconference with his class he opened up: “I miss everyone so much. I only ever get to talk to my little brother who argues all the time, or my mom and dad, and they’re always working.”

I overheard his comment while up in my office. Working.

And that, dear friends, is what parenting in a pandemic feels like — a heavy, weighted blanket of guilt — guilt that is bottomless and causes breathlessness even as I write it down.

 

Hey teacher, how about you pick the teams?

In honour of Pink Shirt Day how about we do something completely radical?

For one single day let’s cancel gym class, unilaterally — in every city, everywhere.

Or, maybe we could do something slightly less dramatic. Maybe we could implement a few minor changes. For starters, how about we end the time-honoured tradition of forcing children to line up while their peers select them for a team; a process that inevitably ends up with one child being the last selected, over and over again until he or she can finally opt out of gym as an elective in Grade 11.

Because really, what is this selection process if not socially acceptable bullying? Sure, it was how things worked in the 1980s when I was in elementary school, but that was before we wore pink shirts and used cute acronyms to describe ideal behaviour.

The fact is kids want to win. And while they may wish to be “Safe, Outstanding, Accountable, and Respectful (SOAR),” when you throw them into the Hunger Games Arena (or gymnasium) and tell them to pick their dodgeball team, they’re going to do the exact same thing we did when we were 10 and pick the kids who can throw hard and run fast. And the rest of the kids are going to stand in an ever-shrinking line with their cheeks burning just waiting for this humiliation to end.

I’ve written before about being a parent to child of many skills and talents, most of which are cerebral rather than physical. I adore my thoughtful, artistic son, the one who happily climbs trees and folds paper airplanes; the one who, if given a choice between a visit to the dentist and a stint on a soccer team, would choose his teeth every time.

But he must participate in gym, and generally he’s fine with it, though he cares little about whether he wins or loses. On this day, however, he cared. On this day he came home from school and told me of a day that “started off great, and then got worse.”

It was Tuesday. Gym day. His class was to play dodgeball, and two children were selected to choose teams.

“I was chosen first, which never happens,” he said, making me sigh.

But then his team started doing poorly, and another boy on his team took the loss seriously.

“He told me that I was the reason we were losing. And then I heard him tell his friend that he couldn’t believe I had been chosen first out of all the kids in the class. AND HE KNEW I COULD HEAR HIM!”

“What did you do,” I asked him.

“I turned to them and said, ‘hey, guys, I’m RIGHT HERE!’ And then they turned to me and said, ‘whatever.'”

What I heard from the story was that my son had been chosen first, and that another child was jealous. My son was steamed, and addressed it in the moment. The moment passed, they went back to class, and completed their day, but not without my son learning a harsh new lesson.

I’m not concerned about this child of mine. He is smart enough and has enough great friends that it doesn’t matter if he plays soccer or hockey, if he’s on the winning team or the losing team, or if gets picked first or picked last. Each day he comes home to a place where he is safe, he is loved, and if he ever feels like he can’t fight his own battles, he knows his home team will spring into action.

But I am concerned about gym class, especially for the kids who might not bounce back so easily. I bet if you did some research you’d discover school-aged bullying happens in a few key venues: The playground, online, and in gym class. We can’t cancel the internet, though it’d be nice to kill the comment section for a day. The kids need fresh air, so we can’t cancel recess. And as much as I personally would have liked to kibosh gym class to avoid the torture that was volleyball, I understand that kids need this, too.

However, in the 30-plus years since I was in elementary school, plenty has changed. Our kids are learning in entirely new ways and using new technologies. Cursive writing is dead, and report cards don’t even have grades anymore. Yet by all accounts gym class has stayed the same. Sure, physical activity is necessary. Sure, dodgeball may end up teaching more relevant skills than, say algebra, so I get we can’t cancel it. But in honour of Pink Shirt Day, maybe the bright lights among us can do something to make gym class slightly less cruel.

Maybe today on Pink Shirt Day the teacher can pick the teams.

 

 

 

 

Resolving to be a bit lazier

I could resolve to learn a new language and to play the piano, and when those two things are well in hand, I could take a stab at calligraphy and finally start to take meditating seriously.

And of course, there is all the blogging that I want to do and haven’t. And let’s not forget the parts of parenting that I should probably invest my time in. I’m pretty decent at being a mom. I think if my kids had to grade my parenting the way I am asked to evaluate my professors after each course I complete, I’d probably come out with a solid B. Maybe a B-minus.

I should spend more time reading with them, especially with my littlest, who at only seven is convinced that he’s “not a good reader,” and is “better at other things,” which breaks my heart because I know that criticisms are like concrete, whereas compliments float away like puffs of air.

I need to get back into meal planning and grocery shopping with intention! Now that I think of it, it would be responsible of me to cut down on the frequency of my visits to the liquor store, also.

I want to read more books that move me, and watch television that I get excited about. I want to phone more people more often and actually hear their voices. I want to visit my grandfather at least twice. I want to take more and better photos, and acquire more stamps for my passport.

I want to do more things and have fewer of them.

But more than all this, more than any of this, I want to just be kinder with myself, and give myself permission to do none of these things occasionally. Over the past three days without coursework or real work, I’ve had moments of absolute laziness. I’ve read books that do nothing but pass time, and consumed coffee while it’s still hot. I’ve scrolled through social media, liking and chiming in. I’ve let the laundry sit in the washing machine and rest for ages in the dryer. I’ve slopped Mr. Noodles into bowls for my children, and they’ve gobbled it up without complaint. I’ve cocooned myself in sweatpants, slippers and an oversized t-shirt with a hilariously ironic “Bodybuilding.com” emblazoned across the front.

There has been fresh air, but no frenzy. There has been activity, but no impatience. But it takes practice, this laziness. There have been moments in the quiet shuffle that I’ve looked up and felt guilty. Guilty for not doing more, better, constantly. I’ve glanced at the washing machine and felt a pang, and have reached for the vacuum only to remind myself that sometimes we need days filled with nothing. Like a factory reset.

Tomorrow, the tree comes down and the vacuum cleaner gets picked up. Tomorrow the clothes come out of the dryer, and soon after we head back to work, to school and to schedules.

Rather than resolve to get better at everything this year, I’ll resolve to become kinder to myself, and to give myself permission to do less more often. We don’t have to get smarter, cook better, learn Spanish, have an exciting social life and a rich marriage all at the same time, each and every day.

So here is to 2020. May it be full of exciting adventures, stunning sunsets, laughter and a little bit of laziness.

 

 

High anxiety parenting

The therapist leaned in, looked me in the eyes and asked:

“Who can you trust completely?”

“Myself,” I answered without thinking.

“And what can you trust yourself to do?”

“Anything,” I said. “Anything I have to.”

“So relax, Danna,” she said, leaning back into her chair. “Relax into life.”

As if it’s just that easy.

While never clinically diagnosed with anxiety, I feel it humming through my veins. As a kid I was in and out of doctors offices complaining of constant tummy aches, and I terrified my parents by refusing to eat. Who can eat when there’s so much to worry about?

Come to think of it, maybe I’m not anxious. Maybe I’m just a melodramatic worrier with an overactive imagination.

I developed little tricks that seemed to help. There were mantras I’d repeat to myself nightly before falling asleep: “Everything is going to be OK tomorrow; you are not going to die,” I’d whisper into my pillow. I had a bear that slept with me every night. His name was Bear and he had a red bowtie. I don’t know why I speak of him in past tense, because he is currently in my room.

There was a cherry tree in the front yard and when I climbed it the tummy aches would go away. It quickly became known as the Magic Tree, and a place of escape when nothing else worked.

In my 20s there were a few trips to the ER for what felt like heart attacks. A couple of Ativan later, and I was able to get through planning a wedding.

Now I’m a grown up, and a worst-case scenario parent who can no longer just run outside and climb a tree. In need of more mature solutions, I sought out professional advice.

So I go to therapy. I also exercise a lot. I’ve tried to meditate, but I usually just end up making a grocery list in my head.

For me, anxiety is like a toxic security blanket. It’s killing me, but also makes me feel normal, comfortable, and super productive. When I’m not anxious, I get anxious, as if there’s something lurking around the corner that I haven’t wised up to yet. I’ll wander the house, randomly feeling my children’s foreheads for fever, checking the calendar to make sure I’m not missing a dentist appointment. I’ll call my parents and ask after their health.

But anxiety, I’ve learned, is about perfection and control. If I’m in control of a situation, then I don’t have to worry about it. And if I can see it coming (or imagine it in advance) then I can prepare for it, making me a worst-case scenario parent.

Anxiety is helping me get ready so that I can be really GREAT when disaster strikes.

However, according to my therapist, we can control about five to 10 per cent of the events that take place in our lives. As much as we’d like to, we can’t control other people, or the choices they make. I can’t even control the temperature in my office at work. And worry isn’t magical — if I can think of a terrible situation and speak it out loud, that doesn’t prevent it from happening. Jinxing, as it turns out, isn’t a weapon against chaos.

“Who can you trust?”

It was such a simple question, with such a profound internal response.

I can trust myself. And that’s enough. That’s pretty great, actually.

I’ve watched people I love handed their own worst-case-scenarios; death or diagnosis dropped into their laps out of nowhere. They didn’t see it coming, and if they had, would it have made bearing the weight of it any easier?

It was terrible. But they handled it. They are still handling it. And while they’ll never be the same, they will be OK.

Life has shit in it, and despite how active my imagination, I won’t see it coming. There’s no bracing for it.

But when it does hit — and it will — I’ll handle it, because that’s what I do.

When we have children, our worries shift from internal to external and there seems no end to them. What if something happens to my kids? What if they’re hurt, or worse? What if they become ill, or worse? What if they’re struggling and I don’t notice?

There’s no number of miles I can run, no tree high enough to climb my way out of these anxiety-producing thoughts that keep me awake, steal my life, and make me look fucking old.

And so I’m working my way to trusting myself — trusting that when the worst of the garbage arrives to stink up my sweet life, I’ll handle it. It will suck, but I’ll be OK.

And I’ll finally be able to relax into life.

The day the school burned down

What is it about an elementary school that grabs at our hearts? When you think about it, it’s really just a place where cinderblock meets vinyl floors, and where the walls (not the windows) tell you the season. Autumn leaves are replaced by jack-o-lanterns before the poppies bloom only to be replaced by snowmen (and women).

There are a lot of irritating things about elementary schools. Like parking, and the drop-off zones in which one parent always decides to stop and get out and mess up the whole system; like the lost and found bin that fills up the first week of school and gets progressively smellier over time.

And then there’s our little community school, composed of a maze of interconnected classrooms in which one could easily get turned around. Our school was built in the early 1970s and was trendy back then. An open concept school, it followed the principle that children would learn more effectively in open, creative spaces. They would learn at their own pace, and let their interests lead them. Teachers would work together alongside the students, and would learn from each other. It sure sounded like a great idea, but open = noisy and distracting, and before long the walls went back up, and our little school became super confusing, a maze of interconnected classrooms without hallways.

My old elementary school had high-tech machines that beat up chalkboard erasers. This school has Smart Boards and Chrome Books.

But there is still carpet time; children still sit criss-cross applesauce, hands in their laps. There are still stars on reading charts and cubbies with little shoes in them. There are still swing sets and hockey nets and a little room in the office that you sit in when your tummy aches.

Or at least there was, before it burned to the ground last week.

Driving by the other night on my way to a parent meeting to find out where my children would spend the next two years while their school is rebuilt, I stopped by our school and cried for a bit. Its roof had caved in, and it sat, crooked in the rain, like a hodgepodge of scattered blocks destroyed by an angry toddler.

I didn’t expect the sight would make me cry. Everyone got out safely. Nobody was injured. The building will rise again even better than before.

Everything will be OK.

But everything will be different, and so much has been lost. The fire even took away the smell of crayons, new shoes, old shoes, leftover lunches and library books.

My old school, Fraserview Elementary, still stands. Today if I wanted to, I could wander its perimeter, sit on a swing, or look through the window of what was once Mrs. Taylor’s Grade 3 class.

Today, 36 years after I began kindergarten I can close my eyes and see Mrs. Greenwood’s classroom perfectly, and remember her face as if no time had passed. If I needed to use the bathroom, I’d know exactly where to go, and I can picture the playground perfectly, as though I’d chipped my front tooth on the monkey bars yesterday.

I can smell the glazed donuts on hot lunch day, and I remember faking injury in warm weather so the secretary would give me ice, which I’d eat and enjoy like it was the best dessert I’d ever tasted.

This was where I learned to read, learned to write, and learned all the words to Oh Canada! This was where I danced in front of the whole school to Pump Up The Jam, and when I’m drinking, I can still remember the moves.

So this is why I cried sitting in front of our school and watching it through the windshield wipers. It’s not the building, it’s the memories. It’s the teachers, and the friends. When you’re in it, when you are there, you have no idea that it’s all sinking in, that you’re becoming part of its history and that it is becoming part of your own.

My children will make new memories, but they’ll never forget the day that their school burned down.

***
Parkcrest Elementary in Kamloops, British Columbia, was destroyed by fire on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The Parkcrest Parent Advisory Council is actively raising funds to replace many of the teaching materials lost in the fire. Please consider joining us, and help us meet our goal.

A bottomless pit of parenting guilt

If you asked my kids what they did this summer (as I’m sure their teachers did today), they’d respond with the classic, “nothing,” and further elucidate that it was “fine.”

But let me tell you, their summer has been amazing. Stupendous. Chock full of memories galore.

Funny thing, though, just as we all begin flossing two days before our semi-annual dentist visit, I busted out the home reading books and sight words four days before the start of school.

And I groaned, and mentally chastised myself for letting the book-learning slip. My littlest child, for whom reading has never come easy, struggled through words that had stars behind them when he left his classroom on that final day in June. He grew frustrated and annoyed with my choice of books, and flatly refused to sit still, insisting that he’d read with me, “tomorrow” (which coincides with the day that my diet always starts).

What have my kids done this summer?

They’ve gone swimming more times that I can count. They’ve sailed down water slides, and turned over rocks looking for crabs. They’ve scooped up fistfuls of sand in a quest for clams, and took turns announcing theirs as the biggest, or most beautiful.

They’ve trapped jellyfish in travel mugs just to watch them pulse, and named them before setting them free. They strapped on lifejackets and paddled out into the surf in a kayak, one of them spotting a family of otters along the beach.

They’ve visited with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and even a great grandpa who refused to turn up his hearing aid so he couldn’t hear about great adventures, but warned us loudly (as he always does) to visit more, because he won’t last much longer.

They stayed up way past their bedtimes, and rode bikes and scooters in the neighbourhood with friends. They’ve bobbed around on lakes, and learned how to do backflips into pools. They’ve gone camping; they’ve eaten in restaurants and around fires.

I’ve ensured that they’ve experienced summer, its sunsets, its weird bugs and its skinned knees. They still smell of sunscreen even after they’ve bathed, or maybe they just smell of sunshine?

They’ve been healthy. There have been zero trips to the doctor, or late nights with big bowls. There have been no fevers, coughs, or stuffed noses.

But as the new school dawns I have so much guilt — not for the things we did do, but for the things we didn’t.

When our routine went out the window, so did the homework. Teachers ask us every year to keep up the great work, and to practice over the summer, but we didn’t, and that’s on me.

As is the case with so much of parenting, it’s easier to dwell on the activities that you didn’t do than it is to congratulate yourself for all of the things that you did. Contriving such amazing experiences requires boatloads of effort, and quite a bit of cash. Nightly reading and flossing is cheap by comparison.

But what does dental hygiene have to do with literacy? Guilt.

The guilt kicked in during a visit to the dentist last week where several cavities were detected. It was in this moment of handwringing that I began tallying up all the other ways I’ve failed my sweet children. Flossing. Reading. Probably not enough vegetables. They went to Sunday school with their grandma twice though, so that had to count for something.

How did I let this happen? Was it too many campfire marshmallows, and not enough gargling around the fire? Probably.

While looking into my child’s mouth the dentist saw the thing I didn’t do well enough, not the 999 incredible things I did. When my children head back to school this week, their teachers will sigh and see where I cut corners. They may even imagine my nightly refrain: “That’s OK. You’re tired. We’ll read tomorrow.”

And the guilt makes my tummy hurt.

So, here’s to the start of the new school year, the start of a routine that includes fewer campfires and jellyfish, and more vowels and fractions. Let’s give a cheer to those food groups we’ll welcome back into our lives again, and for the oral health that will once again take centre stage.

Mind you, if you were to ask my children what they did this summer, and they answered, “brush, floss, and practice sight words,” I’d probably get a failing grade also.

There’s no climbing out of this bottomless pit of parenting guilt.

Adulting: Reflections of a youngish old person

I’ve read a lot about “adulting” these days, and I laugh (and cry inwardly) at the tweets that  speak so much #truth about the experience of aging.

I’m younger than some, but feel “old” creeping up on me, and never more so than now as I recover from a serious injury, which has made me fully aware of my own frailty. 

c8b846eec8044acad2a656af85c41ec0c05b818b780a0f10d177e154cedb123a_1I had similarly aged friends over this weekend, and noticed something interesting: When grown ups get together, we often find ourselves competing to see who is the most tired, or the most sore (I win); according to the Internets, our favourite childhood memory is of our backs not hurting. We welcome those to the Over 40 Club with phrases like, “I hope you like Advil,” and it’s funny (and sad) because it’s true. After nearly eight weeks convalescing from my first broken bone, and fielding comments from my weekend friends who placed bets on how long it will take to heal, “now that you’re old,” and who asked about whether I broke my ankle due to “low bone density,” I get it. I truly get it. 

We make noises now when we stand up after sitting, when we bend low to get something from a cupboard, or when we have to reach high (for the Advil). Our joints click as we walk down the stairs, or when we yawn.

Last week, when I saw the surgeon for what I hope to be the last time, he stared at me sadly when I asked about my recovery, and my swollen ankle. I enquired about whether or not I’d ever see my ankle bones again, or those adorable small bones in the top of my foot that I had always taken for granted. 

He met my question with a sigh: “It’s never going to be the same, Danna. I don’t want to lie to you, but as good as it might get, it’ll never be the same. You’ll always have your left ankle, though.”

So now, as a youngish old person, I finally get it when I hear others speak of their good and bad bones and joints — their bad knee, the one in which they can feel the change of weather. I now have a bad ankle, and it will also likely predict the future.

The surgeon seemed to be about my age. In the exam room, in that moment of shared sadness, we were literally speaking of my ankle, but I felt we were figuratively speaking about all the things: Our energy levels, the foods that we can no longer eat, how often we have sex, how late we stay up at night (or how early we go to bed), the way our clothes fit, the type of podcasts we listen to (because talk radio is for old people and music is for kids), and the type of documentaries that we fall asleep in front of every single night.

But it’s not all bad. Like the doctor says, there’s still plenty of life left in parts of me. And becoming a youngish old person provides a new perspective, and allows me to focus more on the important things — the things I can control.

Like flossing.

I am older, wicked tired and pretty sore most days, but I have healthy teeth and gums.

And stretching.  

At first, going to yoga was just a way to escape my toddlers for an hour at a time, and to give myself the mental space to avoid a breakdown when they’d get out of bed for the 12th time to ask why we even have mountains. Or Spanish. 

But as it turns out, stretching is important, and never more so now that I’m a youngish old person. Trust me, youngish young people, someday you’ll feel silly going to your chiropractor or massage therapist and telling them that you “stepped weird and felt something pop,” or that you “sneezed once and now you can’t take a deep breath.” I know how foolish these words sound because I’ve said them.

Be smarter than I was.

 

Please buy my “vintage” junk

There are people out there who “live simply,” which I assume means that they don’t have children.

I aspire to live simply, but currently, “live ordinarily,” meaning that my house contains a lot of useless junk. And because we’re busy, and because I consider it winning if I manage to wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirrors and occasionally run the vacuum around, organizing, arranging and disposing of this useless junk is always going to happen next weekend.

So as an experiment, when the notice went around the neighbourhood to participate in an upcoming community garage sale, I put my name down figuring that committing to this nonsense would force me to empty out the closets and root through toy bins. Short of moving, this was the only thing I could think of to reduce our mountain of useless excess.

I made this commitment a month ago, and I’ve been stressed the hell out ever since.

I’ve never hosted a garage sale. The garage sale will take place in two days. I am not prepared.

What if I don’t have enough stuff?

Are there a suitable number of things one must offer up to qualify as an appropriately-sized garage sale? What if I’ve been overestimating the volume of crap I have in my house, and when the day arrives, I set up my table in the driveway and it contains only four things?

I have literally lost sleep over this in the past month. What if I don’t have enough garbage?

Then I began combing through closets and it became clear that I was not at risk of running short of crap. It was at this point that I became nervous about displaying my crap with the right amount of flare.

Showing off the goods

When fun, carefree wanderers set up stalls at the market to sell jewelry made of forks, or driftwood wind chimes, their booths look charmingly whimsical, but I bet money they Pinterest the heck out of their retail displays before trundling into the market square at the break of dawn.

But what they’re selling is artistic and fanciful, what I’m selling are four pairs of gently used soccer cleats, every single season of Entourage on DVD (it was a phase), and a bucket full of action figures. My wares are not whimsical, and as such, will be dumped onto old sheets of plywood balanced across Rubbermaid bins with a sign above that reads, “Everything for a dollar.”

I envision brisk sales.

At the heart of it

I’m putting on a Bandaid without treating the infection. I’m purging the worst of the garbage, knowing full well that I’m just making way for more. I’m stemming the flow, but I can’t hold back the tide. I’m not dealing with the root of the problem, but she’s my mother in law and I love her.

So please, if you’re not busy Saturday, come buy my “vintage” DVDs.

Hands free

Imagine for a moment that it’s a spring day, and you’re walking down the street with all the time you need to pause, look in a window, fix your hair in the reflection, and keep on going.

You are sauntering; your long arms are swinging by your sides, and there’s a light breeze that’s keeping you cool but not messing with your mind. No jacket is required. Winter is over, and your arms can move without being imprisoned in their nylon jail; without that irritating “swipe, swipe, swipe” of a winter coat.

And you’ve got nothing in your hands.

Imagine that. Nothing in your hands.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the host was interviewing actress Amy Sedaris. During the interview she described a man they both knew as “the kind of guy who walks down the street with nothing in his hands.”

Listen: WTF with Marc Maron podcast with Amy Sedaris

I stopped listening at that point, and began imagining what that kind of freedom might feel like.

I can’t remember when I started carrying everything, but it’s been awhile. To walk down the street with nothing in my hands, or looped across my shoulder, would feel as foreign as writing with my left hand, standing up to pee, or being wrong.

I got my first purse when I was about five. It was shaped like a bunch of bananas and had a sharp metal zipper across the top. It held quarters and my Avon lip-gloss that came in the shape of a chocolate chip cookie.

Remember when your mom would take you to baby showers and they’d play the game “What’s in your purse?” Look it up, people still play it.

The winner of the game is the woman with the most ridiculous things in her purse. The ladies would all sit in a circle and someone would read out a random item — usually it started simply, with “keys,” before moving onto more obscure items, like bear spray, a spoon, a bottle of mouthwash, and a roll of duct tap (all of which, used together, could probably be turned into a bomb.)

Whenever you raised your hand and hoisted up your spoon or pepper spray to be admired by the crowd, you’d be awarded a clothes peg. By the end of the game, the woman with the most clothes pegs lining the hem of her skirt would take a prize home in her enormous handbag.

I was always annoyed that my own mother didn’t think ahead and salt her purse with random oddities, but as an adult, I recognize one clear truth: The winner of that game was the loser. The actual “winner,” is the one with the rotator cuff problems; she’s the one who can’t find her lip-gloss when it counts; she’s the one who can’t get through customs without a serious misunderstanding.

The real winner is woman without a single clothes peg, or the guy walking down the street with nothing in his hands.

This guy isn’t carrying anything for himself, or anyone else. Nobody’s asking this guy for snacks, or to please carry his BeyBlades. Nobody is begging him for gum, or a quarter so he can get a bouncy ball out of a machine. Nope. He’s so free he can’t even remember where he put his cellphone, and he’s so chill that he doesn’t even freak out about it.

The freedom of not carrying something — the freedom of not carrying everything — blows my mind.

I know I’ll never be described as “the kind of woman that walks down the street with nothing in her hands,” but as far as goals go, it’s not a bad one to strive for.

 

 

 

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.